How to Understand Your Partner Better

Recognizing we are different for a reason

You are different from your partner.  Duh!  This is not breaking news, but have you thought about what makes you different?  What if you could look into their life and see why they think and act differently than you?  You can!  I want to give you 3 steps on how to understand your partner better.

How to understand your partner better

I recently moved from Northern New Mexico to Tucson, Arizona.  While both are dry climates, I began to notice some differences in how the houses were built.  My house in New Mexico had windows covering the south side of my house.  The houses in Arizona have few windows facing south.  The house we are living in has 1 in a bathroom.  Why the difference?  Well, It can freeze where I lived in New Mexico 9 months out of the year.  If it freezes in Tucson, it is a weather emergency.  It can be over 110 degrees for 4 months out of the year here.  It’s REALLY hot!
This got me to thinking about people who move here from colder climates and ask to put in the south facing windows.  Big mistake.  What they enjoyed where they came from would be an energy waste and make things miserable.  You must adapt to the climate you live in.
Relationships are a lot like building houses, you need to adjust to the climate. So, to help us see how we were built for one climate and our partner was built differently, I want to give you some steps to understand your partner better.

3 steps on how to understand your partner better.

Step #1 – See why they were built differently than you.

On of the strange realities of relationships is we are attracted to people who are different than us, then we are disappointed when they don’t become like us.  My wife and I were raised in different family “climates”.  Her family dynamics, lifestyle, and beliefs were different than mine.  Not hugely different, but their priorities were not the same as my family.  These differences can create a traumatic effect later in your relationship if you don’t understand them.

Dr. John Gottman at the Gottman Institute talks about creating “maps” with your partner.  The more time and energy you put into knowing the details about your partner and where they came from, the higher the success rate of your relationship.  Like the windows, your partner was built they way they were for a reason.  Learn all of the things that made them they way they were.

While you should continue to learn all you can about where they came from, your reaction to what you learn is the next step in how to understand your partner better.

Step #2 – Learn to react to them in a positive way every time.

We’ve all had someone come to our house and say something like: “I see you painted the walls dark colors, I would never do that.”  We are stuck at that point.  Their negative view of your decorating has revealed itself, even though they may not be ugly revealing it.  We do similar damage in our relationships all the time.  I wrote a post about this here.

When our spouse/partner gives us information that we disagree with or don’t understand, our response will either grow the relationship or shut it down.  It doesn’t take too many times of sharing information with someone who doesn’t encourage before we won’t share anymore.  Once we quit sharing, the relationship literally begins to die.

To develop the habit of reacting in a positive way, give your partner permission to stop you when they feel like you are not understanding them.  Everyone needs someone they can be their true selves with.  Use phrases like “I see” or “help me understand what you are saying.”

The habit of reaction is a hard one to overcome.  You probably learned it from your family, so realize it will take a while to become your natural self.   Another step on how to understand your partner better is to build on what you already know.

Step #3 – Build on what you learn.

One of the most frustrating things in a relationship can be lessons you learn over and over.  When our partner forgets what we have already hashed out, it drives us crazy!  BUT, how are you about remembering those things?

If you find that both of you keep arguing about the same things, it may be time to keep a notebook of things you have already dealt with.  When you write down things like how and when you will take vacations, or pay bills, or even what kind of dog you agreed to have, you can enjoy each other’s company more and answer questions less.

This may seem like a clunky way to handle your differences, but it works!  If you agree on some things you can spend less emotional energy struggling through them every time they come up.  The secret is not that the list is like a bible of things you must do, but instead if things change you can both agree to the changes before the rule changes.  This keeps one partner from feeling like the other makes all of the decisions.

So, the next time you don’t understand your partner, try these 3 steps to see if you can, at least, see why they might feel the way they do.

And start looking at the houses in your town.  Why did they build them the way they did?  The reason might surprise you!

and remember –making relationships great!

Make YOUR Relationships GREAT!

Dr. Mike

What difference do you think understanding your partner will make?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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